James Fisher, who spent 27 years on Oklahoma’s death row, was recently released to a re-entry program at the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Montgomery, Alabama, after he accepted a plea agreement with prosecutors. Fisher, who is now working at EJI, had been sentenced to death twice, and in both instances, higher courts overturned his death sentence after finding that his defense attorneys provided him inadequate representation. His first lawyer, E. Melvin Porter, was unwilling or unable to reveal holes evident in the state’s case. According to a federal appeals court, Porter exhibited “actual doubt and hostility” about his client’s defense and failed to present a closing argument, even though the state’s case was “hardly overwhelming.” Porter later admitted that, at the time, he considered homosexuals to be “among the worst people in the world” and considered Fisher a “very hostile client.” John Albert, Fisher’s second lawyer, later admitted that at the time of the trial, he was drinking heavily and abusing drugs, and once even physically threatened Fisher. Court records also show that Albert all but ignored defense material concerning the case and failed to sufficiently challenge the testimony of the state’s primary witness. Fisher instructed his new lawyer to seek a plea deal with prosecutors, avoiding a third trial. In an exchange for his freedom, he agreed to plead guilty to first-degree murder, to complete a comprehensive re-entry program in Alabama, and to never return to Oklahoma.

(D. Barry, “In the Rearview Mirror, Oklahoma and Death Row,” New York Times, August 11, 2010). See Representation and Arbitrariness.